Friday, August 8, 2014

Taekwondo training when you're 60+, Part 2: Building a Team

My most recent post, "Taekwondo Training When You're 60+," seemed to strike the right chord with this blog's readers, because it has become the most popular article in the series.  This is a highly encouraging sign, because it suggests that more than a few martial artists have figured out that training doesn't need to stop when you're 30, 50, or 80.
   So I decided to follow up with "Building a Team," because I have found this to be a critical training strategy for senior athletes . . . especially those who continue to compete.
   Fifty years ago, when I was 18, I didn't worry much about sports injuries.  They rarely occurred, and when they did, they generally vanished in a day or two without any effort on my part.  But 68 isn't 18, so I now rely on a highly skilled training team to keep me fit for competition.  Finding the right members for this team can be a challenge, but it's well worth the effort. 
   Here are the team members along with a few key points about each of them:
     Primary Care Physician.  Decades of searching for an athlete-friendly doctor taught me that most physicians, even those who tout themselves as "sports medicine" experts, continually give the same advice: "Just take a few weeks off."  Seriously?  For this kind of advice I should pay?  The whole point of being a competitive athlete is that I don't want to take a few weeks off.  And, frankly, when you're pushing 70, taking a few weeks off can set you back by months, not weeks.  As I said at the top, 68 isn't 18.
   I am fortunate to have found a doctor who is willing to work with me in advance of injuries.  If I have a major competition coming up and feel that some physical therapy would help me work out specific body issues, she is willing to write a prescription.  Makes sense, doesn't it?  Why wait until after the injury to prescribe physical therapy when a little PT can help avoid the injury? 
   If you're still working with a doctor whose answer to every injury is, "Take a few weeks off," ask around and find a physician -- preferably an athlete -- who understands that minimizing lost training time is good.
     Physical Therapist.   You need to shop around for the right physical therapist, because not all of them have experience in working with serious athletes.  I've visited enough PT clinics to know that many physical therapists spend most of every day working with older patients who have simply neglected their way to injury.  If you look around and see that most patients are 200 pounds overweight, have trouble breathing because they've been smoking for 60 years, and can't do a sit-up, you may need to find another clinic.  Clinics that work frequently with high school and college athletes are ideal, because the physical therapists are treating the most common injuries AND have a keen understanding of how to prevent those injuries. 
     Massage Therapist.  No, I'm not talking about one of the big chains that hires trainees who have some education but zero experience.  What you generally get from these massage therapists is a "relaxation massage," which is fine only if you simply want to relax for 50 minute or so.  So what you need to do is ask around until you find a massage therapist who a) understands anatomy extremely well, b) has years of experience in working with athletes, and c) is prepared to cause a little pain on the way to fixing what ails you.  I have learned the hard way that tight muscles and joints need more than "relaxation" techniques.  What they need is someone who can find the problem areas and then apply enough hand pressure to cause the tight muscles to release. 
     Videographer.  Sounds pretty fancy and expensive, no?  Relax.  Your spouse, significant other, or training partner can do all you need with an iPhone or iPad.  Look, even if you work out in front of a large mirror you can't really see your technique.  And you can't rely on your Taekwondo school's master instructor to be there every time you need him or her.  So get used to shooting short videos of your forms, punches, kicks, blocks, and such.  You can critique them on your own, of course, or you can email them to your instructor.  Fifty years ago you would have needed a ton of expensive equipment to pull this off.  Today you can probably get it done with a cell phone.
   So there's my short list of the folks who belong on your training team.  Each of them must understand that you're an athlete, not just another old guy complaining about aches and pains, and must be willing to treat you like the competitor you are.  Your goal is to train and compete, not take a few weeks off.  So work with professionals who will do everything possible to keep you in action.